Tim Farron: A Lib Dem to do business with

While Nick Clegg remains comfortable in coalition with the Tories, the Lib Dem president, Tim Farron, has other ambitions.

When I received an embargoed copy of Nick Clegg’s opening speech to the Liberal Democrat conference, as my train made its way towards Glasgow, one line immediately stood out. The Deputy Prime Minister was soon to refer disparagingly to “some people in our party” who “don’t like us being too nasty to Labour”.

It was an unmistakable reference to my interview with Tim Farron in last week’s New Statesman, in which the Liberal Democrats’ president told me: “I really like Ed Miliband, so I don’t want to diss him. I don’t want join in with the Tories, who compare him to Kinnock.”

Referring to the unsuccessful 2011 Alternative Vote campaign, Farron added: “He wouldn’t share a platform with Nick, so he ended up with me, poor thing. I like the guy.” That Clegg took exception to the comments was not surprising; Miliband has repeatedly suggested that his head would be the price of a future Labour-Lib Dem coalition.

Two hours later, as Clegg walked out on stage, I waited in anticipation for his rebuke to Farron, the darling of the party’s left. But as he approached the relevant passage, the line was softened to “but let’s not be too nasty about Labour”. For the sake of party unity, Clegg retreated from an attack on his most likely successor as leader.

After I broke the news on the NS’s Staggers blog, the party leader’s team politely informed Farron’s staff, who responded with amusement. When the Lib Dem president signals his preference for a coalition with Labour over another with the Conservatives, he does so in the knowledge that he speaks for most of his party’s members. A poll for the grass-roots website Liberal Democrat Voice this month showed that 54 per cent of party activists would prefer a post-2015 alliance with Labour, compared to just 21 per cent for the Tories.

In his own speech earlier that day, Farron, the Lib Dems’ finest platform orator, had spoken ambitiously of his desire to “build and lead a new consensus”, in a resurrection of the pre-2010 language of progressive realignment. Should Labour become the largest party after the next general election but fall short of a majority, he has positioned himself perfectly as a Lib Dem Miliband can do business with.

Tim Farron, President of the Liberal Democrats. Photo: Getty

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 23 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Can Miliband speak for England?

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Exclusive: Labour MEPs call for Jeremy Corbyn to resign as leader

Letter demands Corbyn's departure and attacks his office for "promoting" the work of the Leave campaign. 

Labour's MEPs have called for Jeremy Corbyn to resign in the latest challenge to his leadership. In a letter sent to Corbyn and leaked to the New Statesman, Glenis Willmott, the chair of the European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP), wrote: "We find it hard to see how any Labour leader can continue in that role if they do not have the support of their MPs." Corbyn yesterday lost a no confidence vote among the Parliamentary Labour Party by 176 to 40. The letter also attacked the leader's office for an "official Labour briefing document" which "promoted the work of Kate Hoey and Gisela Stuart for the Leave campaign."

The demand for Corbyn's resignation is described by sources as the "majority position" of Labour's 20 MEPs. Their stance could prove crucial if the leader is not automatically included in any new contest (a matter of legal dispute) and is required to seek 50 nominations from MP/MEPs (20 per cent of the total). 

The letter reads: 

"The European Parliamentary Labour Party met today for its first meeting since the referendum and concluded that we should send you this letter today.

"The EPLP has always striven to have a loyal and constructive relationship with our party leader, and we have worked hard to cooperate with you over recent months. However, we have very serious concerns in the light of Labour's defeat in the referendum campaign.

"Responsiblity for the UK leaving the EU lies with David Cameron. That being said, we were simply astounded that on Friday morning, as news of the result sank in, an official Labour briefing document promoted the work of Kate Hoey and Gisela Stuart for the Leave campaign.

"Labour's loyal and dedicated teams of activists had just spent weeks on the doorstep and on street-stalls making the case to remain in the EU and countering leave campaign arguments. Yet you and your office authorised a briefing that put the whole Labour campaign on a par with two Labour politicians who had been appearing for weeks alongside right-wing politicians, such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson.

"Separate from the referendum issue, it has become clear in recent days that you do not have the confidence of the Parliamentary Labour Party. We find it hard to see how many Labour leader can continue in that role if they do not have the support of their MPs.

"So it it with a heavy heart that we urge you, for the sake of the Labour Party and for the people in our country who need a Labour government, to reconsider your position as Labour leader."

Yours sincerely,

Glenis Wilmott MEP

On behalf of the European Parliamentary Labour Party 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.